Blog Posts for social change

Every Museum Needs a Community Organizer

Posted by Damon Rich, Nov 07, 2011 2 comments

Damon Rich

With Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center (2009), I tried to transform several galleries of the Queens Museum of Art into a place to explore how our society pays for housing, how the system has broken down, and the arguments over fixing it.

Developed between 2006 and 2008 at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, the work included video conversations with mortgage investors, homebuying counselors, bankers, financial justice advocates, and government regulators; a model of the city’s foreclosure geography using the Museum's famous Panorama of the City of Newark; the inhabitable head of a real estate appraiser; a sinister forty-foot interest rate graph; bus-stop-style posters on the history of mortgage institutions; and puppet shows about mortgage scams and how to avoid them.

Even with this physical setting, the life of the exhibition as a learning center -- not just a conceptual model for one-depended upon connections beyond the gallery, allowing the museum to play a distinct role as part of a larger democratic discussion, providing an aesthetic and abstracted supplement to the concrete but disassociated facts of the news and the disciplined and goal-oriented work of community advocacy.

While artists like Fred Wilson, Andrea Fraser, Martha Rosler, Adrian Piper, and Hans Haacke have focused art audiences on the limitations of the institutions that show their work (including class and race biases and their role in the self-legitimation of the powerful), few institutions have built upon these critical insights to develop the organizational capacities to overcome them. Which organizational capacities?

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Join Our First Animating Democracy Blog Salon

Posted by Joanna Chin, Nov 07, 2011 0 comments

Joanna Chin

Community connections are being eroded on multiple sides. There are growing divisions amongst Americans on how to deal with our social, economic, and political problems. Technology is making it possible to never physically interact with another human being and warping the way we relate to one another. Small towns and cities alike are losing their sense of identity and facing crises involving lack of affordable housing and declining social services.

Perhaps in reaction to this erosion of community ties, there’s been an increased interest in cultivating civic engagement, placemaking, and change at a local level.

There is a growing body of evidence and examples of how communities have utilized local assets in order to begin to address this problem. We assert that the arts and culture have always had a place in this work of creating a sense of place, strengthening civic participation, and bolstering positive social change.

For this Blog Salon, we’ve dared our bloggers to answer big questions, like:

  1. Where do you see breakthrough work at the intersection of art and community, civic, or social change? What makes it effective?
  2. Looking to the future, what will it take to move and sustain arts and culture into its most potent role in community development, civic engagement, and social change?
  3. What are the principles we have to hold onto and what are the shifts that need to occur?
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Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 5)

Posted by Barbara Schaffer Bacon, Nov 01, 2011 1 comment

Barbara Schaffer Bacon

Our Paradox, Now Available on YouTube!

With bold headlines generated by the release of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change, the appetite was high at the Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) Conference for an opportunity to address the charge of being elite so often leveled at the arts. Do we want to own it or change it? And, what about the progressive label? Don’t artists generally lean left?

The session "Too Progressive, Too Elite: Public Value and the Paradox of the Arts" turned out to be that opportunity. Marete Wester, my colleague and director of arts policy at Americans for the Arts, and I organized the session based on our own interests in exploring the truths and challenges inherent in these labels--but we wanted a fresh conversation. So, why not start with art!? After all, connecting art and dialogue has been Animating Democracy’s cause and mantra for over ten years. GIA’s own Tommer Peterson signed on and spent the summer conducting 45 interviews on the theme.

A Night at the Opera, a short play by Tommer and KJ Sanchez of American Records Theater Company, was performed to open the salon session held at Emerald Tablet, a community arts center in San Francisco's historic North Beach neighborhood.

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The Art Inside #OccupyWallStreet

Posted by Amanda Alef, Oct 31, 2011 1 comment

The art of signs used at #OWS (photo from

Throughout history art has been fundamentally intertwined with social movements and political activism and it continually serves as a critical avenue through which to question, comment on, and influence change in the world around it. And this time around is no exception.

While the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to gain momentum, the arts have become a unique tool in the movement’s development and have played a central role in the creative expression of the movement’s message.

On any given day the artistic pulse of the movement can be witnessed through the countless cardboard signs on display throughout downtown Manhattan’s Zuccoti Park, as well as the emergence of a screenprinting lab, daily open stage performances, and the constant presence of musicians who add song to the movement’s message.

Only fourteen days after protesters began occupying, the formation of the Arts and Culture Committee emerged as a subcommittee of the movement’s general assembly. This collection of painters, graphic designers, musicians, art students, and more, represents the creative voices of the movement and have been working to support the peaceful occupation of Liberty Square and to foster participation in the creation of cultural work that amplifies the movement’s message.

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Arts-Based Solutions for a Stronger America

Posted by Marete Wester, Oct 20, 2011 0 comments

A word cloud generated by the discussion at the National Arts Policy Roundtable.

On September 22-24, over 40 top-level private and public sector leaders along with renowned as well as emerging artists, converged at the Sundance Resort and Preserve for the sixth annual Americans for the Arts National Arts Policy Roundtable, “Innovating for Impact: Arts-Based Solutions for a Stronger America.” The Roundtable is convened in partnership with the Sundance Institute.

The questions put forth were as big as the brilliant blue sky above the reddening autumn leaves dotting the Wasatch Mountain range—“how do the arts bring innovation to social problem-solving?” and “how, as leaders from foundations, business, government and the social sector, can we encourage and support the arts as agents of change?"

Presentations by participants informed the discussion. Artists were at the core both demonstrating and explaining how their work is leading to change on the ground.

Poignant stories told through film, theater, and visual art highlighted the value the arts have in leading to change. Arts projects magnified through the lens of television and social networking revealed how the artistic process and products can be transformed into larger movements and calls to action.

The issues the arts addressed ranged from alleviating poverty to overcoming intolerance, and trying to understand the emotional complexities and personal devastation buried underneath the economic downturn.

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Community Engagement & College Degrees: Building the Next Generation of Arts Leaders

Posted by Sara Bateman, Sep 23, 2011 2 comments

Sara Bateman

Lately, it seems that every conference I attend, classroom I enter, or art forum I participate in is fixated on the notion of transforming those in the arts field from just merely that of an artist or an administrator to that of a community leader.

While the arts have been recognized for over two decades as a way to revitalize our neighborhoods, it seems like now more than ever before people are reaching out as a way to ignite community engagement and inspire change. But if we are to depend more and more on the arts as a way to transform not only the structural but the psyche of our communities, if we are to elevate from simply artist to organizer, how do we train the next generation who will be stepping into these roles?

Colleges worldwide have the answer through a new breed of degree being offered behind the walls of academia. Or I should say, outside. Breaking artists out of the solo studio experience, placing administrators in the community, and creating programming that reaches beyond the college boundary, colleges are offering an educational experience that focuses on engagement and activism through the arts.

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